Paradigm or pandemic, tug of war marketing in the spirit industry is unnecessary, out of hand, and contributing to the decline of the activity. “Ready buyers” are clientele that know the product they want and have their check in hand waiting to give it away. In this case ready buyers are gym owners. The major companies are in a constant battle to increase immediate sales through taking “ready buyers” from other companies. I am going to refer to this as the tug of war. Any gym owner knows this through the wasted piles of mail advertisements and the annoying messages from the “state director” or “area care rep.” All of them call to say they are checking in to see what they can do for you, but we all know that their goal is to get you to choose their event or company over another.

Spirit companies seem to have this tug of war marketing plan running their offices. When we need a little more power on one side, we just merge with or buyout another company. Companies also use non-profit competitions, and even rules and score sheets to create more pull in their direction. It seems that if one group moves one direction, the other group must do the same to add a little more muscle to their end of the rope. So, we all know that some tug of war marketing is necessary, and that it does create some benefits to the “ready buyers” in the form of competitiveness in the marketplace, but it is also the wrong focus for our spirit industry.

Now you ask, “Why?” Most successful industries understand the need to expand the customer base and create more “ready buyers”. The spirit industry has put forth very little effort to accomplish this goal. To put this in perspective, let us explore the area I am most familiar with. Mississippi has an estimated 5-year-old to 18-year-old population of 546,000. There are around twenty all-star organizations with a combined total of fewer than 1600 participants. That is a fraction of one percent of the target market. Not too many cheerleaders, right? My research has shown that this is consistent with most other areas.

The USASF has made level rules, competition companies have developed tons of divisions, we are popping up events everywhere the sun sets, and still the numbers have remained stagnant or declined. I blame this on the “tug of war.” The current model is to have a cheerleader entrepreneur open a gym, get that gym successful through their hard work, coaching, and marketing, and then send the friendly attack dogs in to make them a convert to a specific brand. The money that exchanges hands is out of this world!

A typical gym that has 150 participants attends 3 one day events and up to three major events in a season. That gym will spend close to $100,000 to the event providers. Considering the same gym will take in around $150,000 for tuition, this means that the largest expense for the parents outside of training is competing. I will not go into the numbers, but if you add practice clothes, shoes, uniforms, sweats, bags, make-up, credentialing, and all the other bells and whistles, this means that a gym owners job is now to be a great coach, manage a great facility, be a good boss, and take up money from his or her new clients to pay other organizations that did relatively nothing to help him open his doors.

Gym owners have become the middleman in major money transactions in this large business. How many times have gym owners had to tell a parent complaining about the expense, “This money is not going to me!” Every gym owner knows this is a problem. Every spirit industry leader better learn. With the current owners being the marketing department for the major companies now, the easiest thing to do is get them on your side. Thus the “tug of war.”

So the gym owner is now the victim? Absolutely not! We do it too! Gym owners have found that it is much easier to attack the clientele of other gyms with promises of greener grass. In this case the “ready buyer” is the all star cheerleader at another gym. We tug young athletes so hard it almost pulls some arms off. It definitely runs some of them off! Do you find it amazing that in a typical city of 500,000 people a gym will spend most of its time recruiting kids from another gym with 100 athletes? If the same attention was given to building new customers, gyms would be much more successful. In turn, competition companies and the entire spirit industry would be a stronger and much larger industry.

Spirit industry leaders must refocus their aim on projected markets and build more “ready buyers” rather than continuing the game of tug of war. First, the USASF as well as the NACCC were great ideas to expand the activity, but have had very little success within the country. We have level rules that no one understands, especially parents and kids. We even have scholarships now, but very few people within the industry know they exist and almost no one outside is aware. Use the USASF as a bridge between all of the tug of war teams to build the ready buyer base by actually promoting cheerleading. The USASF website says “The USASF is a not for profit whose purpose and mission is to maximize the number of participants benefiting from the positive life experience of all star cheerleading and dance” meaning the USASF should have the sole purpose of expanding and promoting the activity of spirit.

How do you promote cheerleading to the masses? Tell the truth! We all know that competition is only the test in our industry. The real benefits are those gained in the gym every day. Replace the idea that a successful cheerleader is adorned by jackets, medals, trophies and titles, with the FACT that a successful cheerleader is healthy, smart, a time management pro, confident, and has group skills that are unmatched by most other children. Make a parent want to invest in this great activity by merely telling the truth! It sounds crazy, but I bet it would work.

Companies could help to train prospective gym owners in low volume market areas instead of charging the young business owners for coach credentialing, athlete credentialing, gym credentialing, and other continuous and start up fees. I know that these are sources of revenue, but revenue would increase more drastically if the amount of “ready buyers” were increased. Invest in public service announcements. Use media to promote gyms and the benefits outside of competition that these gyms offer. Train the gym owners to be great leaders and focus on the athletic and academic success of their clients. Invest money into market research and share that with the industry. If these things were done, the tug of war may give way to shoveling. There would be plenty to go around!